Marion school board to discuss potential cuts, increased tax rate

Administrators, staff and community members compiled three-page report of cost-saving suggestions

Published: March 7 2014 | 5:25 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:18 am in

Everything will be up for discussion for the Marion Independent School District’s school board on Monday, March 10, when administrators will present a list of recommendations designed to help the district make up for a $900,000 budget shortfall in time for the 2015 fiscal year.

“What I am expecting to happen at Monday night’s meeting is the board to give me more direction,” said Superintendent Sarah Pinion. “It really is a time just to get a nod from the board that these are the things we should be looking at or not looking at.”

Documents for the meeting include three pages of cost-saving suggestions from administrators, staff and community members. Some of those ideas – such as combining the positions of business manager and superintendent, adjusting administrators’ contracts and getting rid of the Extended Learning Program – Pinion said are not viable options because they are violate state law, employment agreements, board policy or conflict with licensure.

The remaining recommendations fall into two categories: possibilities and future considerations.

The potential immediate cuts total just shy of $1.3 million and include reducing or eliminating some administrative positions – such as the assistant superintendent, assistant principals at Starry and Emerson elementary schools as well as the dean and assistant principal at Vernon Middle School – shrinking building budgets by 10 percent and saying goodbye to the middle school’s Students Okay without Drugs and Alcohol program.

A number of staff reductions are also on the list, including art, English and foreign language teaching positions at Marion High School and three core teachers at the middle school. Board members will discuss these options Monday, but Pinion and Business Manager Brian Bartz said no final decisions on cuts will be made then.

“There is nothing that says that any one of those would for sure happen,” Pinion said.

The list also includes $242,674 in potential reductions to special education, which Pinion said has been operating in the red for the district, like cutting six full-time equivalent (FTE) associates between the middle school and Francis Marion Intermediate School and 1.75 FTE special education teachers through attrition.

“We’re thinking that, based on our numbers right now, we would be able to staff their classrooms with staff that we currently have,” Pinion said. “That’s really the biggest area that runs a negative for our district.”

Among the future considerations are consolidating with either the Linn-Mar or Cedar Rapids school districts, moving to a four-day school week and eliminating block scheduling.

“The board might say, 'We want you to study and maybe put (them) in place in five years or ten years," Pinion said. “They would all have to be evaluated as far as is this something that would be good for our families, for our community, for the learning of our students. Those are future considerations. The board could at any time, Monday night or whenever, say, 'Take that off the list.'"

On Monday, board members will vote on publishing an overall levy rate of $18.20 per $1,000 in taxable valuation, which is a 74-cent increase from the fiscal year 2014 level of $17.46. They will also decide whether to schedule a certified budget hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, March 31. Bartz said that board meeting is when members will vote on the final dollar amount necessary for cuts, but he said the target recommendation is to cut $450,000 from the budget and get $450,000 in new revenue from taxpayers.

Once published, board members have the option to lower the rate before certifying the final budget in time for the Tuesday, April 15 deadline.

“It kind of depends on what they choose for cuts,” Bartz said. “If there’s not enough cuts, it would have to stay high. I don’t anticipate them lowering it but I can’t say for sure.”

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